A Walker and His Rests

Some of the best memories of my vagabonding walks have been at the resting spots, the places where I might halt for refreshment, or just to admire the view and to rest.

All such stops are memorable in different ways and hundreds come to mind as I think back. They do not necessarily have to be spectacular, offering wide views across miles of countryside. They can be exactly the opposite; the banks of the hollow way where I huddled down under the trees to drink tea with the pouring rain dripping on to my waterproofs, or the bench on a village green where I paused to watch the world go by. The promenade of a seaside resort, or the hidden alleyways of town and city. The mountain summits speak for themselves in my memories as places to linger.

A Devon Hollow Way (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Walking is, obviously, not an end in itself. You walk in order to get to places, joyful though the journey might be in itself. But the halts along the way are an essential part of the experience. Not just as places to consume food and drink but as rests, spaces where body and mind may be refreshed. The break from the walk, for me, is often an opportunity to think, or sometimes not to think – just to be.

If solitary roaming is a kind of moving meditation, then these pauses are moments for reflection, time off from the hurried and harrying world that is life in this twenty-first century. To lie on your back and gaze at the sky can bring true peace, free of intruding conversations and the ill-thought out actions of others – which is why it is hard to do on group walks. Such moments are not a luxury in life but a positive necessity. On a clear day, resting on the great slope of a mountain, or the green turf of downland, you can almost feel the rotation of the earth, as though time itself doesn’t exist and there really is just you and the universe.

The Downs near Arundel (c) John Bainbridge 2017

In his mystical book The Story of My Heart, Richard Jefferies discovers the depths of such moments:

There were grass-grown tumuli on the hills to which of old I used to walk, sit down at the foot of one of them, and think. Some warrior had been interred there in the ante-historic times. The sun of the summer morning shone on the dome of sward, and the air came softly up from the wheat below, the tips of the grasses swayed as it passed sighing faintly, it ceased, and the bees hummed by to the thyme and heathbells. I became absorbed in the glory of the day, the sunshine, the sweet air, the yellowing corn turning from its sappy green to summer’s noon of gold, the lark’s song like a waterfall in the sky.

Jefferies identifies with the man buried in the tumulus, someone who would have known that same scene two millennia before, and realises that time and eternity are imposed concepts that have little to do with the feelings that people get when they let themselves absorb the reality of the earth. “Eternity is now!” Jefferies remarks. There is, he suggests, no separation from the past. The truth of the world is continuous and all around.

I have felt similar feelings when alone and in the hills. The dramas of the world, its conflicts and wars, its terrors and unhappiness, have faded away – at least in my mind – in the times I have rested, pleasantly tired from a walk, in the lonely places.

And the thought has often occurred to me that if everyone in the world could find such ease, then the conflicts, the wars, and the lack of happiness might be expelled from the human psyche forever. The greatest moments of peace of mind I have ever known have been in these interludes during my many walks.  Some of the resting spots are heart places to me, locations I can journey to in my mind during the frustrating times of modern living, and see and feel and hear and absorb the sounds of the quieter world around.

These heart places are diverse kinds of landscape. There is the bench at the top of Arundel Park arrived at by a walk up a gentle slope, where I have so often rested and soaked up the peace of the downlands and the wide views over the valley of the Arun and the flooded bowl of Amberley Wild Brooks.

There is a tiny waterfall near Ballachulish, where on a sunny day in early May I lay back on a boulder, my feet being soaked by water which just a little while before had been snow on the slopes of Beinn a’ Fheiter. There is an old tree in the woodlands of Hole Common, near Lyme Regis, where I have halted for lunch on numerous occasions, watching the deer if I have been early enough in the day.

Helm Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Near to the Black Lochs of Argyll is a ruined dwelling, below a precariously perched boulder, where I have paused in sunshine and in storm. Then there is the quiet resting spot on the shores of Loch Lochy where I drummed up refreshing tea on a still autumn evening, listening to the bellowing of the stags on the hillside above.

These are just a few of the heart places that have lived in mind since I first discovered them. There are many more. Places I will return to again and again, whether on real physical expeditions, or just on journeys in my thoughts and dreams. These are the unexpected riches of the vagrom life.


For more reflections on the walking life do look at my book Wayfarer’s Dole, now out in paperback and on Kindle. If you have read it please leave a review. Just click on the link below…



William Wordsworth Takes Direct Action

The poet William Wordsworth took direct action to break open a blocked right of way on the land of Sir John Wallace, when journeying to Lowther Castle for a dinner held in the poet’s honour.Beamish Winter 034.JPG

During the meal an apoplectic Sir John complained that his wall had been broken down and, if he ever found out who was responsible, he would get out his horsewhip.

At which point Wordsworth got to his feet, saying “I broke down your wall, Sir John. It was obstructing an ancient right of way, and I will do it again. I am a Tory, but scratch me on the back deep enough and you will find the Whig in me yet”. A witness to Wordsworth’s action stated that the poet attacked the obstructing wall “as if it were a living enemy”.

Saving Our Ancient Tracks

Have you noticed how fashionable our ancient tracks have become?A Lake District Corpse Road 014.JPG

Those lovely old paths which may have been used by drovers and pilgrims, marching armies or industrial workers. Or even the local footpaths which people used to get to church or market.

Our ancient tracks are as important to our history as the stone circles, the henges and hill-forts beloved by antiquaries. They should be cherished and protected. Lose them and we lose much of our history.

But, they have certainly become fashionable: the current issue of Country Walking magazine devotes much of its pages to walking ancient trackways: Tony Robinson has a Channel 4 television series where he walks ancient tracks: Robert Macfarlane has a best-selling book, The Old Ways, on the subject. I commend them all to you.

How the world has changed over the past few years…

Not so long ago, those of us campaigning to have our ancient tracks and their original lines preserved felt like voices crying in the wilderness.

Landowners sought to have these important tracks diverted or closed, aided by dreadful local councils and even national park authorities. Some of them are still at it. “Why does it matter?”, these people said to me. “Who’s bothered about the paths people used to get to church or wherever?”

Even some footpath officers in Ramblers Association groups happily waved through dreadful diversions and closures, terrified of being branded ‘militant’ if they didn’t. Many of these diversions agreed were awful on the ground, even if you took away any historical links.

But I scent the winds of change. The more people write or broadcast about the historical gems these paths are, then the better.

Footpath officers, whether they be Ramblers or council, should work on the presumption that all closures and diversions should be opposed.

We should no more contemplate wiping out the line of an ancient trackway than we would contemplate knocking down the old stones of Avebury or Stonehenge.

Every twist of a path tells us much about the people who created it with sometimes centuries of long use.

Let’s save at least some of our much-battered heritage for the generations to come.

I’ve written a lot about my own feelings about ancient tracks in my books The Compleat Trespasser and Wayfarer’s Dole. Here are the links if you’d care to have a look… 

Ullswater Way – Pooley Bridge to Swarthbeck

And so our irregular walking of the Ullswater Way comes to an end, as we explore the bit between Pooley Bridge and Swarthbeck Gill. Or rather sections in the plural, for two alternatives are given. A high level and a low level route. So, to make a circular walk, we decided to walk both – taking the high ground at the start and returning closer to the lake.

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Ullswater from Howe Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The first section follows the lane out of Pooley Bridge up Howe Hill and out on to open fell between Heughscar Hill and Moor Divock. I’ve blogged before about the important archaeology of this area. Not just the Roman road of High Street, but the stone circle known as The Cockpit and a huge number of other antiquities which probably all relate to each other. What we’d have called a sanctuary in my Dartmoor days.

At The Cockpit, the Way gently winds below Arthur’s Pike, offering wonderful views not only over Ullswater, but along what is one of the most impressive hillsides in Lakeland.

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The Cockpit (c) John Bainbridge 2017

To mark the Ullswater Way, a grand sitting stone has been placed here to commemorate the life and work of the incomparable A.Wainwright, at a point where he sketched one of his views across the lake.

We made very good use of it!

At Swarthbeck, beloved of Gill scramblers outside nesting times, we turned down past Swarthbeck Farm and wandered through mountain meadows to the beautifully-named Crook-a-dyke and Seat Farm. Then down to the lane for a brief while before following the lakeshore from Waterside House.

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The Wainwright Stone (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Much of this part of the Way is full of camping sites, and it was good to see so many people enjoying the fine day. Good too to look up at the neighbouring hillside with its dramatic crags, which we’d wondered through only an hour or two before.

The Ullswater Way follows the lakeshore and then the banks of the River Eamont back to Pooley Bridge.

Our Ullswater Way explorations at an end.

But if you are looking for a reasonably easy expedition in the Lake District then I commend to you the Ullswater Way. And by supporting local businesses, be they shops, bed and breakfast accommodation or whatever, you are directly helping communities like Pooley Bridge and Glenridding and the others that are still recovering from the devastation caused by Storm Desmond nearly two years ago.

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Swarthbeck Gill (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Do google Ullswater Way and download the free guide leaflet.

And if you’ve missed any of the blogged walks just type Ullswater Way on to the search over to the right on the page here.

On the Ullswater Way – the bit around Hallin Fell

Regular readers will know that we’ve been walking the Ullswater Way, completely out of sequence and often incorporating other footpaths to make a circular walk. Well worth doing if you favour easy rambles between higher fell walks. So do type in Ullswater Way into the search if you want to see the other walks.

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(c) John Bainbridge 2017

This was the shortest of our Ullswater Way walks, the bit that circles Hallin Fell, close to the shores of the lake, on very pretty wooded paths. To make it a tad longer, we followed the way around the watered fringes of Howtown, up on to the fellside of Hewthwaite and nearly to Swarthbeck Gill.

As we started our circuit from Martindale new church, you might as well nip up to the top of Hallin Fell before you finish what is, after all, only a pleasant morning’s walk.

I like the walk down to Bridge End and Sandwick from Martindale. Gorgeous paths with sensational views back up Martindale to The Nab, then up Boredale with the great mass of Place Fell – one of my favourite Lakeland fells – dominating all.

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In Hallinhag Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2017

A lovely unspoiled landscape, with some glorious old local buildings. The Way, as I’ve said is very near the lakeshore, as it winds through the beautifully-named Hallinhag Wood to Geordie’s Crag (who was this Geordie?) where we stopped for a break.

Then down to Howtown, where we watched the steamer come in and out to the pier.

The Way leaves the immediate shores of Ullswater at this point and climbs the fell to Hewthwaite, giving wider views of the lake – the planners of the Ullswater Way were wise to give their path sections that see the lake from different distances. Better than keeping it to the immediate shoreline all the way.

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Approaching Howtown (c) John Bainbridge 2017

From Swarthbeck we returned a little the same way before taking a footpath to Mellguards and then back to Howtown, before cutting through the twisting zig-zag roads back to Martindale new church.

A short section of the Way, though our circular walk added a little distance. But with some particularly fine views along the journey.

Do look at the Ullswater Way website at http://www.ullswater.com/the-ullswater-way/ The whole route would be a splendid expedition for a weekend, or even a day if you are feeling fit.

Saints, Shrines and Pilgrims

Saints, Shrines and Pilgrims by Roger Rosewell is a new addition to the excellent range of Shire Publications. With so many ramblers following the old pilgrim routes, whether in the UK or further afield, this is a good introduction to the medieval folk who went on pilgrimage.

Roger Rosewell looks at the growth of pilgrimages and their decline, the saints and their shrines they sought out, the people who made the pilgrimages, and just why they did. For some it was an act of pure devotion, for others a way to find escape from the long hours of labouring – their holy days became our holidays.

The number of Britons who went on a pilgrimage are incredible. In 1534, even as the Reformation was getting under way and on the eve of the odious Henry VIII scrapping the shrines, 62,000 pilgrims visited the shrine at Walsingham.

There’s a useful list of saints and some absolutely beautiful illustrations and Mr Rosewell is a most entertaining writer.

Whether you have religious beliefs or not, this is a fascinating read. Highly recommended and a source for planning some interesting expeditions. Worth all seeking out Mr Rosewell’s other excellent book on medieval wall paintings too.